Fruit in a Small Space

The most satisfactory way to grow tree fruits such as apples and pears in a small garden or a confined space is trained as a cordon, fan or espalier against a wall or fence. Even some bush fruits such as gooseberries can be trained as cordons or double cordons against a fence.

There is always space for a few
strawberries if you grow them in a
container like this. 

Blackberries and hybrid berries can be trained against a fence or over an arch, but keep the growth contained and avoid allowing thorny shoots to overhang pathways.

It is even possible to grow apples in pots on the patio, but with the new flagpole-type varieties available that grow in a narrow column, you may prefer to plant these where space is limited. They will require much less watering and attention than ordinary varieties on dwarfing rootstocks
in pots.

The initial training of espaliers, fans and cordons demands patience and
skill. Unless you particularly like the challenge and can wait for two or
three years longer, it is best to buy a ready-trained tree.

Potted fruit

Apples can be grown in pots provided you choose a very dwarfing
rootstock. The same applies to
peaches. You can experiment with
other bush and tree fruits, but bear in mind that this is second best to
growing them in the ground.

Flagpole apples

You can buy a range of apple trees
that rarely produce long sideshoots,
but instead grow upright and produce most fruiting spurs along the main vertical stem. These take up little
space and won’t cast a heavy shadow,
so they are ideal for growing in a
flower bed. The blossom is pretty in spring, and the ripening fruits are ornamental later in the year.


Rhubarb is ornamental enough to be grown in the flower border.You can even grow it in a large pot as a foliage plant for the patio, though this is not the best way to achieve a heavy crop.


If you don’t have much space for
fruit, at least try growing
strawberries. A strawberry barrel or a tower container will hold a lot of strawberries and provided you keep
the container well watered it will be laden with fruit . . . which won’t become splashed with mud if the weather is wet or awkward to pick.
Also the fruit will be more difficult
for slugs to reach.

Buying fruit trees

Whether a fruit tree such as an apple, peach or cherry is suitable
for a small garden depends not so much on the variety of the fruit
but on the rootstock. This has a profound affect on the size of the tree (as well as how soon it starts
to fruit). Always check the root-stock before you buy, and if in doubt ask whether it is suitably dwarfing for a small garden.

If you want apples in a small garden
it is best to use one of the columnar
varieties or to grow an ordinary
variety on a trained system like this
espalier ‘Lord Lambourne’.

Trained fruit trees

Trained trees look attractive and produce a heavy crop from a restricted space. But they require regular and methodical training, sometimes twice a year. If in
doubt about how to prune a particular trained fruit, consult
an encyclopedia or fruit book.

Espaliers: are more ornamental
than cordons (some shrubs, such
as pyracanthas, are occasionally trained as espaliers using the
same methods).

Cordons: are usually trained at
an angle of about 45 degrees, secured to support canes and
wires fixed to stout posts or to a fence. Many plants can be planted in a small space, and soft fruits
such as gooseberries and red and white currants can be trained in
this way, saving the space taken
up by a bush form.

Fans: can be free-standing, tied to wires supported by posts, but
they are usually planted against a wall or fence. In time a fan can be trained to cover a large area, such
as a garage wall.

Step-overs: are single-tiered espaliers, used as a fruiting 
edging, perhaps within the 
kitchen garden.